written by: Victoria E
• edited by: BStone
• updated: 10/1/2010
Breast cancer, colon cancer, stroke, heart disease, hot flashes and menopause - what do they all have in common? Excess hormones in our bodies. How can we control this? Where do these hormones come from and why am I sweating just talking about it?
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American women are virtually under attack from our Western diet. The abundance of animal proteins and the lack of fiber, antioxidants and other essential nutrients contribute to the poor quality of a Western diet compared to that of Asian cultures such as Japan and China. In addition to the poor food combinations, we have become such an ‘instant-gratification’ society, that it is no longer considered enough to let a chick grow to adult ‘chickenhood’ in 6 months – no – we want it now! So, with the help of hormones (mainly animal estrogen), we can go from chick to chicken in 6 weeks – and, not to be graphic, but you should see the breasts on those chicks!
According to Dr. Brett of Prevention magazine’s Prevention Nature’s Medicine, “One of the biggest reasons women get into trouble with breast cancer is too much estrogen floating around in their bodies." Many women are already at increased risk for endometrial, ovarian, uterine, and breast cancer, gallbladder disease, strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases due to the already-high levels of estrogen in the body.
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What Can We Do?
So what can be done about this? Our bodies use estrogen for many essential functions, so we have estrogen receptors, always on the lookout for estrogen they can absorb. The trick is to keep these estrogen receptors busy, and away from the animal hormones floating around in our bodies – Enter Phytoestrogens – plant compounds that act similar to estrogen. Typically, their effect is about 2 percent of that of estrogen. The estrogen receptors grab onto the phytoestrgens, and forget all about the animal estrogens.
Phytoestrogens are found in plants like legumes, grains, fruits and nuts. This is one of the contributing factors why consumers of an Asian or vegetarian diet have lower occurrences of hot-flashes, menopausal symptoms, and other hormone-dependant health issues. Phytoestrogens can be classified into three groups: isoflavones, lignans and coumestans.
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Isoflavones are found in soybeans, licorice, kudzu, alfalfa, black cohosh and red clover. They act both on the estrogen receptors as well as on the enzymes that metabolizes them. Another great fact about certain isoflavones is that they are natural cancer-protective compounds.
Lignans, found in many fruits and seeds produce a compound that triggers the excretion of estrogen in the urine, decreasing the amount of estrogen in the body, and its ability to influence the hormone-dependent diseases. Studies show that breast cancer rates are lower in women who excrete higher amounts of lignans in their urine. Prostate cancer risks are lower in men who consume high amounts of lignans. In studies, flax seed oil has also been associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer. If you are at higher risk, ask your health care provider to perform this simple urine test. However, please note that a 2008 report by the Mayo Clinic warns that "...alpha-linolenic acid [found in flax seeds] may be associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer." So, if you are adding lignans to your diet for prostrate cancer, omit the flax seeds.
Coumestans in alfalfa and red clover help to balance estrogen levels by triggering estrogenic activity when estrogen levels are low and by competing for estrogen receptor binding sites when estrogen levels are high. High and low estrogen levels can impact mood swings and hot-flashes.
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Beans Beans They're Good For Your Heart - Who Knew!
Since high levels of excess hormones affect all of us, girls, boys, men, and women, we all can benefit by making a few changes to our diet. By adding foods that blance hormones, like soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, flax seeds, and other legumes, fruits and nuts to your diet, and reducing the amount of animal hormones in your diet, we can greatly impact the occurrence of early puberty, menopausal discomforts, hormone-dependant cancers, gallbladder and cardiovascular disease and yes, heart disease.
So, maybe, twice a week a nice loaded salad finds its way to the dinner table instead of fried chicken, or perhaps we heap the black-eyed peas and kidney beans on the plate, with only a side of meat. What about eating a salad filled with chickpeas, flax seeds, and kidney beans before dinner – keep those estrogen receptors busy!
Remember, some change is better than no change, and a little more is better than some. So start small, and work up to a healthier diet, and leave the growth hormones off the table.